Last spring, Sojourners helped to mobilize a broad group of evangelical, pentecostal, black, Catholic, and mainline Protestant leaders to offer a visible alternative to the Religious Right. Our May 23 press conference released "The Cry for Renewal," signed by a very diverse group of almost 100 church leaders, and the event immediately struck a deeply responsive chord with many people around the country.
Meetings that same day with both Republican and Democratic political leaders on Capitol Hill to discuss a "new politics" were also remarkably successful. More than 200 newspapers around the country carried the story, including the nation's most widely read publications. Literally hundreds of radio, television, and press interviews have followed with several spokespersons from our new Cry for Renewal network.
On virtually every occasion, the public's response-in both the
secular and Christian media-has been very supportive of an alternative
voice and direction to that which is being loudly proclaimed by
the Christian Coalition. Both the Cry for Renewal and the successful
publication of The Soul of Politics
have enabled us to raise up more publicly the promise of a new political vision beyond the old categories of Left and Right, liberal and conservative, that have lost people's confidence and become obstacles to finding real solutions to the problems we face.
There are now three pieces of good news to report. First, since last spring, all of those most involved in the Cry for Renewal have reported a very positive response from their own constituencies and communities. People seem hungry for a new moral voice in politics, different in both substance and style to the Religious Right. At Sojourners, we have been bombarded with phone calls and letters from people asking how they can become involved in their own communities. I've been on the road almost constantly since the end of May and have found deep excitement both to the alternative to the Religious Right and the new politics. Other Cry for Renewal participants, such as Tony Campolo, report the same enthusiasm wherever they go.
Second, most of the church leaders involved in the effort last spring want to continue together and go forward. Constituency leaders from evangelical, Catholic, black, and mainline Protestant churches who just met in Philadelphia decided to create a new network of many people and groups named "The Cry for Renewal: A Movement of Christians for Social Transformation." We also decided to begin a serious mobilization at national, state, and local levels.
Third, we've begun a new political dialogue with politicians across the spectrum. While I expected a strong response to this effort from church people and local communities across the country, I must admit that I have been pleasantly surprised by the interest from a broad range of political leaders.
The spectrum of those with whom we are in ongoing conversation includes Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and his policy people, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and his Democratic Leadership Caucus, George Stephanopoulos and others in the White House staff, Bill Bradley and other independent-minded political leaders, and, soon, a bipartisan group of Christian congressional representatives and senators who are looking for common ground beyond the bitter partisan battles in which both their parties are engaged. Many other journalists and political analysts in Washington have expressed a great deal of interest as well, along with elected politicians from several political parties in Europe and Australia with whom I've spoken in the last several months.
All these dialogues are centered around the need for new political approaches and solutions. As one Christian congressional representative said to me recently, "We desperately need some new ideas."
WHERE POSSIBLE, we are committed to a real dialogue with people on the Religious Right. We want to find common ground where we can, and discuss our disagreements more civilly where we cannot.
This summer I was invited to a debate at Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs as part of the Religious Newswriters Association's annual meeting. We were able to establish our common ground around the need to rebuild family life and values in local communities. They were challenged to place on their agenda the needs of poor families for racial and economic justice, and not engage in homophobia in their legitimate efforts to strengthen two-parent families. They challenged everyone there to place the discussion about moral and family values at the center of our political discourse. It was a good beginning dialogue.
In September, I was in Ohio speaking to diverse crowds of people and meeting with denominational and community leaders. People in Cleveland, Akron, Lorraine, and Wooster want to create the kind of broad coalition between evangelicals, Catholics, black churches, and mainline Protestants that the Cry for Renewal represents on a national level. They want both to offer an alternative voice to the Religious Right and to lift up a more hopeful and prophetic vision of politics than either Republicans and Democrats are now offering-one that is community-based, value-centered, and solution-oriented.
They also want concrete materials to counter the 40,000,000 "voter guides" the Christian Coalition plans to distribute in 1996-materials that would help people in local religious communities work through the relationship between faith and politics thoughtfully and prayerfully. They don't believe the Christian Coalition's response to our social and spiritual crisis is very Christian; they believe it is an ideological strategy focused on electing as many right-wing Republicans to office as possible.
Many of the people I meet are already involved in grassroots efforts to resolve the painful issues of youth violence, poverty, family breakdown, racism, teen-age pregnancy, unemployment, homelessness, education, and crime. In two days in Ohio, I met pastors and priests, lay leaders, community organizers, teachers, students, parents, nurses, nuns, youth workers, lawyers, politicians, bishops, and custodians. They want to cross their denominational lines and come together. And they think it's time to do so.
Our hope is to maintain and expand the national public profile of an alternative voice to groups like the Christian Coalition, and to provide opportunities for many people to become involved in their own churches and communities around the country in offering that voice. But we are not merely offering an alternative to Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson; on a much deeper level, we seek to lift up a deeper public conversation about spiritual values and public life, especially as we enter an important election year.
We want to help people of faith get involved in reweaving the fabric of our families and communities and in renewing our economic and political life-to enlist citizens in the struggle for the "common good," as Catholic social teaching says. We want to make sure that what the Bible sees as "moral issues" in politics are on the agenda: how we treat the poor and most vulnerable, how we heal the wounds of racism, how we replace the values of greed and selfishness with caring and community, how we keep our promises and commitments, how we strengthen our relationships, how we nurture our children, how we protect both the creation and the next generation, how we overcome the violence that threatens the body politic.
New approaches to solving the deepest problems in our public life are urgently needed, and the religious community must do far more than simply join in the partisan battles for political power that many are doing on the Religious Right. Becoming the most powerful bloc in the Republican Party is not quite the same as offering a prophetic voice for change. Rather than enlisting people in the challenging task of rebuilding their communities, groups like the Christian Coalition have helped to polarize the political debate further and have merely joined themselves to a very partisan cause-the right-wing agenda of the Republican Party. Many think they have gone too far.
The Christian Coalition is well organized and mobilized. They have grabbed the media microphones and demonstrated their political clout. But they must not be allowed to define what the Christian "position" is on a wide range of issues or who the true Christian candidates are. And we simply cannot let them create the impression that they speak for all "people of faith" as Ralph Reed often suggests.
They don't speak for me, and I don't think they speak for you either. So we need to speak for ourselves. That's what this project is all about. That alternative voice must be lifted up in churches, schools, neighborhoods, cities, and states around the country. And we need your help and involvement to help make that happen. Both the grassroots enthusiasm and the keen interest of the politicians convinces me that we have discovered a real need. Now it is time to organize.